If you can coax a single flower from a plant that has been flowerless for several years, you may experience a greater sense of accomplishment than you get from observing a reliable bloomer, such as bougainvillea, flower with hardly an interruption from one year to the next.
And then there is always the thought that you may hit upon a new way of pruning or devise a new fertilization regime that will suddenly make a hitherto nondescript specimen the highlight of your garden. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of moving a very leafy, but flowerless plant to a slightly sunnier or slightly shadier location to make it bloom.
It may also happen that you discover a plant in the least promising of circumstances that becomes something truly special. Maybe it’s a plant you fished out of a dumpster from behind a flower shop.
I was once at a nursery and saw a cart of decrepit plants being wheeled away.
One was nothing more than a crumpled clump of foliage topped by a single, yet intriguing flower. I stopped the person who was removing the plants and asked about this dilapidated specimen but received nothing but a quizzical look and shoulder shrug in response.
“Here, you want it?” he finally asked. “No charge.” That was an offer I could not refuse and I promptly went home and planted it. Today, five years later, this orphan of the storm has become a glowing standout in the early spring and autumn flower border, when its coppery-bronze foliage is covered with silky magenta flowers.
Its unopened flower buds are stunning, pointed scarlet cones. This mysterious plant goes by the name of trailing princess flower (Centradenia grandifolia or Heterocentron muricatum). Although it is classified as sub-tropical, it is hardy down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and, in addition to filling up flower beds, will also spill nicely over block walls or out of hanging baskets.
This trailing princess flower is a billowy ground cover that is far more reliable than the common princess flower shrub (Tibouchina urvilleana), to which it is related. When you think of the princess flower shrub, you see a glorious container specimen with royal purple flowers that, planted in the Valley, grows up to five or six feet and looks great for its first year or two, or perhaps three, in the ground before it promptly goes into decline.
Generally speaking, it is one of the biggest disappointments in the Valley garden.
The trailing princess flower, on the other hand, is an entirely different horticultural phenomenon. It can be completely neglected or cut down to almost nothing and, after being watered by winter rain, regrows with astonishing speed, flowering in an uncontrollable frenzy.
You may consider planting a dwarf sweet pea bush (Polygala fruticosa), which grows into a symmetrical two foot mound, as a companion to your trailing princess flower. The larger sweet pea bush (Polygala dalmaisiana) is a more familiar, if asymmetrical, plant. It reaches up to five feet in height and is noted for its exceptionally long blooming cycle.
English wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) is another one of my early spring favorites. It blooms heavily in orange or yellow. Immediately when it is done flowering, cut it back by two-thirds so that it can rejuvenate its shoots for next year’s bloom.
Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ flowers equally intensively, if not more so, in lavender pink.
Q: We have a big bee problem. In the front of our house there is a tree that houses a bee hive. We want them gone since our neighbors do not even walk on our sidewalk and we rarely use our front door, but with the worry of the declining bee population, we want them to just be relocated instead of destroyed. We have heard of community farms relocating bees, but we do not know where to look into this.
– Salena Lomeli, Northridge
A: There are bee relocating services available in our area.You can find them at www.honeyrunapiaries.com or you can do a Google search under “bee relocator Los Angeles” for more options.
Tip of the week
Outside the Westwood Community Center on Sepulveda Boulevard just south of Wilshire Boulevard, I came upon the ideal container plant. It grows slowly, is highly drought tolerant and has an exotic look all its own.
The first time you see a dragon tree (Dracaena draco), you will stop and stare. Its lush Medusa-head foliage contrasts sharply with its husky baobab (the tree that grows on the little prince’s planet) look-a-like, succulent trunk.
Native to the Canary Islands, it can live for more than a thousand years.
Its undoing is moisture on the trunk, leading to trunk decay and early death. Make sure to water carefully, so that water only touches the soil.